Next to Last Stand | Book Review

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from Next to Last Stand, Craig Johnson’s sixteenth novel featuring Walt Longmire, sheriff of (fictional) Absaroka County, Wyoming. The two previous novels—Depth of Winter and Land of Wolves—garnered polar opposite reactions from me: I hated the former and loved the latter. So, would I love or hate the newest installment in the Longmire series?

The book starts with the death of Charley Lee Stillwater, an African American veteran of World War II and the Korean War, who lived at the Veterans Home of Wyoming, which Longmire and his pals call by its old name, the Home for Soldiers and Sailors.

When the home’s administrator begins to process the items in Stillwater’s room, she discovers a Florsheim shoe box with $1 million in cash, an artist’s study for an unknown larger painting, and dozens of carefully annotated books about George Armstrong Custer, his “last stand” at Little Bighorn, and Cassilly Adams’ famous painting of the same. The original painting was destroyed in a fire in 1946, but it is well known due to the million or so copies printed and distributed to bars around the world by Anheuser-Busch.

The administrator calls in Longmire to figure things out, and the sheriff quickly realizes the obvious questions: Where did Stillwater get all this cash? How do the artist’s study and all the annotated books relate to one another? And is Stillwater’s death related to the answers of the first two questions?

As Longmire, his undersheriff and love interest Victoria “Vic” Moretti, and best friend Henry Standing Bear begin to look into things, a museum curator gets knocked out, the artist’s study disappears, Russian oligarchs make an appearance, along with a long lost heir, and Longmire starts to wonder whether that famous painting really burned up in the first place.

You’ll have to read the novel yourself to find out. As far as I’m concerned, this novel has everything that made me like the Longmire series in the first place. A smart sheriff in a small town solving believable crimes, all written up by a master stylist.

So, you could say I loved this novel. I hope Craig Johnson has at least one more Longmire novel in him. I know that Longmire is getting old and contemplating retirement, but there ought to be a sequel to Next to Last Stand. Right? I mean, the title of this novel all but demands one. I’ll be looking for it in the fall of 2021.

Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, Next to Last Stand (New York: Viking, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Land of Wolves | Book Review

Craig Johnson’s fifteenth Walt Longmire novel, Land of Wolves, hit bookstores on September 17, 2019. I didn’t get around to reading it for seven months because, to be honest, I was no longer excited by the series. As I wrote in my review of Depth of Winter, “I’ll give Johnson one more novel in this series to recapture my interest, but at this point, absent a great follow-up novel to this one, I think it’s time for the sheriff to retire.”

I’m happy to report that Walt didn’t retire. With Land of Wolves, we’re back to what made the Longmire novels such page-turners in the first place. It all starts with a dead sheep, killed by a wolf. Or so it appears. But that dead sheep leads to a dead shepherd which leads to the revelation of an unspeakable crime. All this gets peeled back slowly, like taking layers off an onion one at a time.

In my review of Depth of Winter, I complained that Johnson had drawn caricatures rather than believable characters, had tested readers’ willing suspension of disbelief, and had transferred Longmire out of the mystery genre into the suspense genre, which didn’t suit him well. I don’t have those complaints about Land of Wolves.

It’s not a perfect novel. Walt still pulls off too many physical exploits for his age and physical condition. (Especially since he was so badly wounded in the previous novel.) But I’ll give Craig Johnson this: He’s recaptured my interest in the fate of the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

I look forward to the next Longmire mystery.

Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, Land of Wolves (New York: Viking, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Depth of Winter | Book Review

Depth of Winteris Craig Johnson’s fourteenth novel featuring lawman Walt Longmire, and to be honest, it is a disappointment. I say this with regret because I am a fan of the Longmire series, having read all thirteen previous novels as well as the two novellas and collection of short stories. My basic rule for fiction is whether it keeps me turning pages. On that account, the novel failed. I had to force myself to keep reading.

This surprised me. The setup of the novel is good. At the end of The Western Star, Longmire’s archnemesis Tomas Bidarte had kidnapped Cady, fled to Mexico, and dared Longmire to come and get her (and him). This sets up Depth of Winteras a suspense novel focused on rescue and revenge.

So why didn’t this setup work for me? Several reasons:

First, the novel is set in the badlands of Mexico, doesn’t include the usual cast of characters (e.g., Henry, Vic), and introduces other characters that won’t appear in any future Longmire capers. Plus, some of those characters—the legless, blind hunchback; the doctor/intelligence officer/anti-cartel vigilante; the mute Indian sniper—are caricatures, too overdrawn even for Longmire’s admittedly eccentric social network.

Second, what makes fiction work is the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. The overdrawn characters made me pay more attention to how unrealistic the setup is. Longmire is going to the heart of Mexican cartel country in order to rescue his daughter and kill his enemy. Alone? At his age?

Longmire graduated from USC and served in Vietnam. He was in country during the Tet Offensive, which took place in 1968. At minimum, that means he’s 22 in 1968, which means he was born in 1946. (One estimate I saw online estimates his birthyear as 1943.) If the events of Depth of Winterare contemporary, that means Longmire is in his early to mid-70s. And he takes the hardships and beatings in this story as well as he does? I don’t thinks so.

Third, Johnson’s previous novels in this series have been mysteries. There’s a crime, and Longmire solves it. Suspense novels work somewhat differently. There’s a complex problem that needs to be solved, but the question is whether the protagonist will solve it in time. Obviously, readers know that Longmire will at minimum get his daughter back and live, so the question is how tight his escapes will be, how just-in-time he’ll solve the problem. Unfortunately, given the problems I mentioned in my first two points, the tightness and just-in-timeness factors weren’t believable.

As I said at the outset, I’ve been a fan of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, so I regret to file such a poor review of it. I’ll give Johnson one more novel in this series to recapture my interest, but at this point, absent a great follow-up novel to this one, I think it’s time for the sheriff to retire.

Book Review
Craig Johnson, Depth of Winter(New York: Viking, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

The Western Star | Book Review

The Western Star is the thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s series of mystery novels featuring Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming’s (fictional) Absaroka County. It’s also one of the best. How good? I read it in one sitting—four hours glued to my chair wondering what would happen next.

The novel includes three narrative arcs. The first finds Walt in Cheyenne to argue against the parole of a killer he arrested in 1972.

The second takes place in 1972, when Walt is a newly minted deputy of Lucian Connally and accompanies him on a junket of Wyoming sheriffs aboard The Western Star, a steam locomotive from which the book draws its title. When two of the sheriffs go missing, one presumed to have murdered the other, Walt gets dragged into solving the case.

The third narrative arc concerns Tomas Bidarte, a criminal first introduced in A Serpent’s Tooth, who wants to kill Walt, but only after making his family suffer first. These three arcs come together in the book’s explosive conclusion, which, I have to admit, I didn’t see coming. And while they come together, they don’t completely resolve.

In other words, The Western Star made me hope that Craig Johnson finishes his fourteenth Walt Longmire novel really soon. I want to know what happens next.


Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, The Western Star (New York: Viking, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Review of ‘Dry Bones: A Walt Longmire Mystery’ by Craig Johnson

Dry-Bones Craig Johnson, Dry Bones: A Walt Longmire Mystery (New York: Viking, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

Like many people, I became aware of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries through Longmire on A&E. (Netflix has acquired the show and will air its fourth season). The TV show is a different beast than the books. While I enjoy both, I still prefer the latter.

The mystery at the heart of Dead Bones is the death of Danny Lone Elk. Lone Elk owns a ranch on which a large, complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton has just been unearthed. The find is worth millions to whoever owns it. But Lone Elk’s ownership is contested among the federal government, the Cheyenne reservation, and the Lone Elk family. And then, of course, there’s the question of whether Lone Elk died naturally or was murdered.

Longmire works through these questions in his characteristic Absaroka County way. There’s the patient questioning of witnesses, the mystical experiences, the encounters with a nature indifferent to human wellbeing, and the sly sense of humor.

One of my favorite gags in this book is the stoically raised fist and incantation of the words, “Save Jen.” (Jen is the name of the T-rex whom the Absaroka residents want to keep at the local dinosaur museum.) Trust me, it gets funnier as the book goes along.

I’m a huge Longmire fan. As much as I enjoyed this book—and I enjoyed it a lot and read it in one evening—I didn’t think this was the best installment in the series. It’s not bad, mind you. (I can’t imagine a bad story by Craig Johnson.) It’s just not the best.

Even so, if you like the other Longmire books, I know you’ll like this one.


P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Review of ‘Spirit of Steamboat’ by Craig Johnson

Spirit-of-Steamboat Craig Johnson, Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Mystery (New York: Viking, 2013). Hardcover / Kindle

As a general rule, the book is better than the movie or television show that is based on it. Even though A&E’s Longmire is good, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries are better. So, if you like the show, read the series!

Spirit of Steamboat is the latest book in that series. It is less a whodunit than a who-is-he? In other words, Sheriff Longmire doesn’t solve a crime during the story. Instead, the story reveals the true character of one of his companions.

A young Japanese woman walks into the sheriff’s office with a dry cleaning bag and a story to tell. It quickly becomes clear that she’s looking for Longmire and his crusty old predecessor in the sheriff’s office, Lucian Connally. At first, however, neither of them remembers her.

But then, the memories come back: of a horrific car accident, a ferocious winter storm, and a dangerous life-flight to Denver.

To be honest, it took me a while to get into this story. For me, it started slowly, and I kept putting it down. But when I finally set aside some time to read it, I read it through in a single sitting. Craig Johnson is an excellent storyteller, and this one sucked me in at last.

Bottom line: Not as good as Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries, but still pretty good.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote yes on my review page.

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